As body image issues grow in society, be aware of media's influence
As spring break creeps up, parking at the Rec has rapidly become impossible. Girls around campus are cursing themselves over those extra calories as they tape pictures of swimsuit models on their refrigerators for “thin-spiration.”
Many of us look in the mirror, regretting those weeks that we were supposed to go to the gym and hope that we can miraculously transform into the image of “beauty” that we have in our heads (or at least pretend to envision ourselves with Molly Sims’ body).
It is no secret that body-image issues are vastly growing in our society, and although these insecurities may seem more prevalent to some as swimsuit season rolls around, these issues are agents to the serious problems millions of women and young girls struggle with across the nation each day.
I have seen firsthand the negative effects that the pressure to fit an “ideal image” set by our media and culture can have. Girls today are succumbing to potentially life-threatening tactics, including anorexia, bulimia and crash dieting, in order to transform themselves into what society defines as “beautiful.” These disorders are complex conditions that are caused by a variety of factors, including physical, psychological, interpersonal and social issues.
It is often hard for people to understand how exactly these psychological disorders work and develop and the important role mass media can play in pushing people to these limits.
The world of advertising has notoriously sexualized and objectified women, using them as tools of productivity. Women are the pot of gold that fund every commercial and are the center of any noteworthy ad. The commodities that are supposedly being advertised, such as food or cars, are worth nothing without the commodities that the woman posing for it actually brings. These advertisements aren’t really focusing on the product, but in fact on the woman herself.
In making these women objects of ultimate beauty and desire, they are sugar coating the fact that, in this scenario, the woman is merely an item. They are teaching us that women are objects to be used, and our beauty and desirability are measured only by how closely we fit into their constructed criteria.
These stick-thin models, who have been dolled up and photoshopped, are seen as a representation to the public of how women are expected to look (regardless of whether these women appear that way in real life, or not). Our culture sees these images every day as we flip through magazines or watch commercials on T.V., and in turn, they set unrealistic standards for the rest of the population. Forget the idea that being a good human being can make you beautiful, as long as you’ve got a size-26 waist and double-D cup size, who cares?
Wrong. It is these portrayals in our society that are driving women everywhere to make themselves sick in order to feel beautiful. Although these advertisements and societal norms may seem like they are just part of the world we live in, they are instilling this ideology in our society and in the generations beneath us, and we are letting them.
Technological advances and gadgets, such as the iPhone or iPad, now allow us to access entertainment with the touch of a finger. Media sources have utilized these advances creating entertainment apps and buying advertisement space to fall in any online cracks. With the aggressive progression of our need for constant communication and shared information, the media’s influence is more widespread than ever. It has disguised itself as a norm of everyday life and engulfed itself as part of our culture.
To some people, this powerful influence may often be seen as inevitable, harmless or simply just not a big a deal. What they are not realizing, however, is that many of the social standards we abide by are constructed and inspired from what we see and hear from these media outlets. Whether we are reading Cosmopolitan or watching South Park, the messages and ideas being directly or indirectly exposed about how we view ourselves and how we portray men and women in general, impact us in a very large way.
For young women and girls, these unrealistic norms and images may only play a small role in their struggle with body-image issues, but for others, it may be the match that sets off the fire of a continuous battle with an eating disorder.
If we are letting the media into our lives, through our cell phones, music, movies and other sources of entertainment, we are letting their standards influence the way we see things as individuals. It would be ridiculous and hypocritical for me to tell you that you should stop listening to your favorite songs or stop using these sources in general, but that is not my point. The fact is we have let these influences blind us of what we as individuals consider beauty. It is critical in our society, especially as our dependence on media and technology grows, to understand the messages that we are being taught and to take a closer look at how many of our norms are actually shaped from what we believe, and how we want to shape the norms for the future generations to come.
Samantha Romo is a sophomore majoring in journalism. Her column runs bi-weekly on Wednesdays.